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Obama names Ebola 'czar'

President Barack Obama named officials to bolster the response to Ebola in Texas

FILE: In Alabama the CDC is training health care workers to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Picture: CNN.

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama appointed a former White House adviser as Ebola czar on Friday and named officials to bolster the response to the disease in Texas, the centre of US Ebola cases, as the death toll in three West African nations topped 4,500.

The White House appointments came as Obama faced criticism from some lawmakers over his administration's efforts to contain the haemorrhagic virus and as widening Ebola fears kept a US cruise ship out of a Mexican port.

Obama appointed Ron Klain, a lawyer who had served as chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, to oversee the US Ebola response.

The White House also said it would send senior personnel to Dallas to help federal, state and local officials there trying to identify and monitor people who came in contact with three people who caught the disease.

The three include Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with the disease in the United States, and two nurses who were on the team of health workers caring for Duncan until his death last week.

Obama met with health and national security aides and "underscored that the domestic response to Ebola cases must be seamless at all levels," the White House said in a statement.

It was the third consecutive day that Obama had convened officials to discuss what has become a major political issue for his Democratic administration ahead of mid-term elections next month.

The officials will include a Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinator, Kevin Hannes, and a White House liaison, Adrian Saenz, a presidential aide. Governor Rick Perry has named Texas emergency management chief W. Nim Kidd to coordinate the state Ebola effort, the White House said.

US ANXIETY

The White House appointments and the Mexican cruise ship incident highlighted anxiety over the threat from Ebola, even though the three Dallas cases are the only ones diagnosed in the US.

Klain replaces US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Thomas Frieden as the new public face of the government's response to Ebola. The CDC chief was strongly criticized for his handling of the situation in Dallas.

Republicans were quick to criticise Klain, who is seen as a political operative.

"Leave it to President Obama to put a liberal political activist in charge of the administration's Ebola response," Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana medical doctor, said in a statement.

Frieden told a congressional hearing this week that some protective equipment used by health care workers exposed some parts of the skin.

Given those concerns and the fact that two nurses got Ebola at the hospital, the CDC "very soon" will put out new guidelines on putting on and taking off protective gowns, masks, gloves and other gear, CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said.